From the Editor: Ray Chambers, An In-plant Hero
In all my years of covering the in-plant industry, one voice has rung out stronger than the rest in support of in-plants: the voice of Ray Chambers. He always seemed to be there whenever a manager needed help to defend his or her in-plant against outsourcing.
For decades, his sage advice, cultivated from years of in-plant management experience, filled the in-plant discussion boards, the conference rooms, and the pages of this magazine (see page 33). He knew what data to collect and what points to make to illustrate the value of an in-plant. His efforts spared many a targeted shop from closure.
When Ray died on Aug. 13, it hit many of us hard. Ray was such a pillar of the in-plant community. How could he ever leave us? Though we knew his battle with dementia and Parkinson’s disease had slowed him, his reputation seemed to overshadow that.
I met Ray in Fairbanks, Alaska, at the 1996 Association of College and University Printers (ACUP) conference, when he managed the University of Louisville’s in-plant. He was friendly, generous with his insights, and clearly much smarter than me. Over the years, I looked forward to his sessions at conferences, knowing I would pick up new ways of thinking about issues important to readers. His advice was always spot-on, and I eventually asked him to write articles and blogs for In-plant Impressions, which he graciously did.
For Ray, the experience of managing an in-plant was intertwined with the necessity of defending it against outsourcing. From his first in-plant job with the City of Austin, Texas, he was thrust into defense mode after a city councilman’s relative bought a press and tried to corner the city’s print work. He fought similar outsourcing battles at subsequent in-plants in Iowa and Kentucky. By the time I met him, he had moved the battlefront to other people’s shops. He was a frequent contributor to an online message board for higher-ed in-plants, quickly responding to pleas for help from managers being scrutinized for outsourcing.
In 1998, I set up a “great debate” between Ray and the head of a large facilities management company, to demonstrate why in-plants were more valuable than the outsourcing alternative. Though Ray’s southern politeness kept him from humiliating the man as much as I’d hoped, his points were excellent, stressing how in-plants save money, add value, enable confidentiality, and provide more flexibility and innovation than any outside provider.
Ray was a visionary as well. As far back as 1997, he predicted the migration of print work into digital formats. At the ACUP conference that year, he famously proclaimed “My next offset press will be a CD burner,” intending to shock managers into the reality that print volumes were beginning to decline, and they should add new services. His prognostication was not appreciated by everyone, and some misinterpreted his statement as meaning “offset is dead.” But he never backed down from his intended message, and time has vindicated his words, with that CD burner now replaced by the internet.
Ray was always there when I needed him. I organized several in-plant conferences over the years, and each time I asked, he was happy to give a presentation. The last one, possibly his last presentation ever, was at the 2016 Digital Printing in Government and Higher-Ed Conference in Washington, D.C., where he stressed, as he often did, the importance of measuring what you manage.
I didn’t see Ray for a few years after that, but then he and his wife Catherine — a savvy in-plant manager herself — showed up at the 2022 In-plant Printing and Mailing Association conference in Buffalo, New York. It was the last time I saw him. His illness had wearied him, but I talked with him for bit, asking him at one point, “What are you doing with yourself these days?” His quick reply: “Sleeping.” After my chuckle, he added: “I earned it.”
You certainly did, Ray.
I will miss you. We all will. Rest in peace, old friend.
Related story: Ray Chambers: A True Believer in the Value of In-plants
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.